Willmar’s author challenges the stigma of self-publishing


WILLMAR – Former journalist Forrest Peterson knew he wanted to spend his life writing. A few decades more or less and three novels later, he still plays with words, tells stories and entertains readers.

Peterson was born and raised in Willmar, Minnesota, but moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul to get his college education. He went on to earn his Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota and began his career as a journalist with a group of weekly newspapers in north St. Paul.

“I lived there for 14 years and never expected to return to Willmar,” he said with a laugh.

But when Peterson’s wife, who works in animal science, expressed interest in leaving the Twin Cities and a job opened up at the West Central Tribune, the couple decided to move to Willmar just in case. Peterson would get the job.

“I had connections here, being from here, but that wasn’t necessarily why I got the job,” he said. “But, we came back in 1981, and in 1982 I became editor-in-chief, so I was editor-in-chief (at the Tribune) until 1998.”

But newspapers were not the only industry where an enterprising publisher was needed, and Peterson left the Tribune for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 1999 in a communications and public information role. “They had just opened an office here in Willmar, so it worked really well,” said Peterson.

Peterson retired from the MPCA in August 2021.

“Always had an interest”

His career has been about facts and figures and information, “but when it comes to novels, a lot of people who get into journalism want to be writers,” Peterson said. “I’ve always had a kind of interest, ambition, in writing fiction, even if that didn’t apply to my work in the press.”

But around 2003, Peterson sat down and began working on what would become three novels and a work in progress almost 20 years later.

“What I did was get up at 5 or 5:30 in the morning, whenever I could, and start writing, working on my first novel,” he said. “I had general ideas and themes around which to develop a story.”

Peterson’s first novel, “Good Ice,” was published in 2007 by North Star Press, a small independent book publisher based in St. Cloud, Minnesota. While this book was in the publication stage, Peterson was already moving forward with his second novel, “Buffalo Ridge,” which was released in 2012, again via North Star.

“My third, I don’t know when I started this,” Peterson admitted, “probably around 2010, and that one took a long time to come out. A lot of time went where I didn’t. a lot of time working on it, but I finally released it in 2019. “


Forrest Peterson, originally from Willmar, has published three novels since 2007:

Forrest Peterson, a native of Willmar, has published three novels since 2007: “Good Ice,” “Buffalo Ridge,” released in 2012, and “The Swineherd’s Angel,” which was released in 2019. Kit Grode / West Central Tribune

Close to tradition

While Peterson was generally happy with his experience through North Star Press, he decided to take a different route with his third novel, “The Swineherd’s Angel”.

“I really didn’t know much about (the publishing process) at the time,” Peterson said of his first two novels. “Being in the newspaper business, you probably know a little more than the average person about the technical part of the publication, but they said ‘of course we’ll publish it’, and… they just took care of it. all.”

The only thing Peterson, as the author, had to do at this point was to agree to buy a certain number of published books, or a percentage of the original print run, which it then fell to Peterson to sell. through appearances and readings by the author, and through his own website.

“But by the time this one (The Swineherd’s Angel) arrived… I contacted agents first, but it was a real challenge and most of them are in New York City,” Peterson said. “They have no idea of ​​the heart of the nation.”

Having failed to get an agent to present his novel to one of the biggest publishing houses and no longer wanting to fill his basement with an inventory of prints, Peterson turned to others. publishing methods, settling on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing after seeing the rise of self-published books.

“This whole concept, or stigma, of self-publishing, I decided to go this route just because the technology and the process is so different today than it once was,” Peterson said. . “As we obviously see on social media and online, everyone has a blog, or this or that.”

The self-publishing route gave Peterson more control, and the royalties he collected “are actually a little higher than what you would get with a regular publisher.” Of course, this comes with the trade-off that the authors are responsible for making the necessary arrangements for the editing, the cover design, and the marketing of the final product.

It also allows him to choose whether he wants to order his own inventory to sell during appearances, or sell online through Kindle Direct Publishing’s print-on-demand distribution. “People can go to Amazon, which people have, and buy them that way,” Peterson said.

Opportunity to try a new approach

However, Peterson chose not to go the self-publishing route and sought help from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council through a Community Collaboration Grant.


“The Swineherd’s Angel,” by Forrest Peterson, is a novel set in Ames, Iowa, during a cattle disease crisis. Kit Grode / West Central Tribune

“This was a grant for what they called ‘established artists’ so you’ve been around for a while and need a little push to keep moving forward,” Peterson said. “It was a grant opportunity of up to $ 7,000… you must have quite a few details on how you are going to use the funds.”

The grant gave her the financial freedom to hire a professional editor, attend workshops, and build a professional website, and also allowed her to travel to do research for her novel, which “made a difference. big difference, ”said Peterson. “I really did all of these steps that would have happened anyway if (I) went through a publishing house. (But) the reality is, unless you’re a reputable author, (when) you go to a publishing house, you have to pay for these services in advance.

The grant allowed Peterson to pay those upfront costs, including working with The Loft in Minneapolis, which has “a list of writers you hire and work with, and it has worked really well.” story. “

Peterson pointed out that the opportunity he most valued receiving the grant was being able to travel for his research. Peterson’s experience as a journalist shines through in his “realistic fiction” novels, where the events contained within are “something that really could have happened” within the context of the story.

With “The Swineherd’s Angel”, Peterson wanted to emphasize the value of “the diversity and acceptance of people of different cultures and religions”. The book is set in Ames, Iowa, and he was able to set up interviews with people with similar backgrounds to his character, an Iranian student.

“So I thought, ‘Well, I better find out more about this,’ so I looked for Iranian students who went to Iowa State University and went to interview several of them. “said Peterson. “It was really a turning point to help improve the story, to really understand their culture and what they were going through and so on.”

Make “fairly significant changes”

Working with Ben Barnhart from The Loft was a good experience, although it involved some tough choices when it came to editing and revising his novel.


Forrest Peterson, a native of Willmar, has published his third novel,

Forrest Peterson, a native of Willmar, published his third novel, “The Swineherd’s Angel,” in 2019. Peterson’s novel was published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service. Kit Grode / West Central Tribune

“One of the hardest things for a writer to do is cut, and that’s what good editors do, so I had to cut a lot of things. Maybe not as much as he wanted,” Peterson admitted, “but I did. It’s fine, though. It makes for a light-hearted story that doesn’t have things hindering the flow of the reader and so on.”

After submitting his first 10 manuscript pages, “I was very happy to hear ‘Forrest is a strong writer’,” said Peterson. “I had never heard this before. So it was pretty encouraging.”

Peterson and Barnhart worked together to revise the novel through “some pretty big changes,” some of which were more difficult than others to make. “The first chapter of that final copy was actually chapter five or six (in the original manuscript). You really make things happen,” Peterson said.

Once the publisher and author were satisfied with the final product, Peterson was able to send receipts for his expenses to the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council for reimbursement of the grant, which “was a real turning point. never went this far or done this without having that support. “

The only thing the Arts Council has asked Peterson for in return for his financial assistance is credit on any promotional material.

Now that he’s retired, Peterson plans to devote more time to marketing and raising awareness not only of “The Swineherd’s Angel,” but his other work as well. And, of course, he’s still working on novel # 4, which doesn’t have a release schedule yet. He did not register any additional subsidies, but has the possibility of reserving it for the future, because “having a good editor is the key there”.

For more information or to purchase copies of Peterson’s novels, visit his website at www.forrestpeterson.com or his author page on Amazon.

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